The Heart & Soul Of A Band Called Pavement
Now, we all know lots of stuff about that dreamboat Stephen Malkmus. We get it. He’s a lyrical genius, a hugely underrated guitar player, and he’s real cute. We also know enough, for now, about Spiral Stairs, Malkmus’s partner in...
Oct 1 2009, 12:00am
Photo by Gail Butensky
Now, we all know lots of stuff about that dreamboat Stephen Malkmus. We get it. He’s a lyrical genius, a hugely underrated guitar player, and he’s real cute. We also know enough, for now, about Spiral Stairs, Malkmus’s partner in Pavement leadership. He too can shred far above the usual indie-rock mope, he has a clean-cut, educated-frat-boy sort of appeal, and we won’t be surprised when he launches a sweet solo career at some point. It’s bound to happen.
But what about those other guys? The guys who stand to the sides of the stage during Pavement shows? The unsung, secret-weapon, meat-and-potatoes Pavement soldiers!
Mark Ibold, he plays the bass and he is the heart of the band because, first of all, basses make thumping sounds and so do hearts and, second, because he is second only to Malkmus in terms of indie sex symbols. He is a heartthrob who makes chicks with baby bangs the world over moisten their panties.
Bob Nastanovich, who plays… stuff, like second percussion, is the soul of Pavement because onstage he is like Pavement’s collective unleashed id. He’s like a wild monkey, or at least a wild drunk uncle. He is to Pavement what Bez is to the Happy Mondays.
So we talked to Bob and Mark because we love them and people aren’t asking them enough what they think about the fact that their band just put out Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, the best album of the year.
(PS: Sorry, but their new drummer is still on probation as far as we’re concerned. We liked that psycho Gary Young who they used to have playing drums. So Steve West… we’ll see how it goes.)
interviewed by bob nickas
Vice: Crooked Rain has a very California feel, but it was recorded here in New York. Is it true that the “studio” where you recorded was a windowless apartment on the 18th floor of a building in Hell’s Kitchen? What was that like?
Mark Ibold: It was interesting. A bit cobbled together. Equipment was added and subtracted as needed. Much downtime was spent betting on harness racing at the Meadowlands. We lost a good bit of the recording budget there. We had hoped to double it. By the time the artwork for the record was being put together, the studio was still unnamed, so we had a contest among ourselves“Name the Studio.” “Random Falls” won. “Electric Avenue” came in second, “Raw Book Room” third.
And you used quite a bit of vintage equipment because the guy who gave you that space worked in a music store.
Rogue Music is downstairs. Walleye worked there. Each day we’d go in there like it was a cafeteria and we were filling our trays. I’ll take this, a couple of these on the side, andwow!I’ll grab one-a those!
What’s your favorite track on the album?
Right now it’s “Newark Wilder.” I like the title. It is pretty of-the-moment, provoked by the latest wilding incidents involving gangs in New York City and New Jersey. I hope I never run into a Newark or, worse, a Trenton wilder!
That’s my favorite too. I listen to it whenever I’m feeling bummed“the forces against you,” and “I know everybody wants to put you down/But I know everybody’s gonna put me down.” Do you have a least favorite track?
I keep thinking I’m gonna burn out on “Cut Your Hair” but it hasn’t happened... yet.
“Cut Your Hair” is a really catchy song, an obvious choice for a single. It reminds me of this guy I met. I walked into a crowded museum opening and he was standing with some other people but I only noticed him. He had long hair, and right away I thought: We’re going to be friends. We hung out that evening and the following afternoon. The very next time I saw him he had cut his hair. It was and wasn’t the same person. I told him that he had made a big mistake. He said that he grows his hair long, then cuts it, and grows it back. We became good friends pretty fast, so I’m waiting for it to grow back now. Has anything like that ever happened to you?
Oh yeah, I remember you telling me that story before. It made me feel a bit embarrassed because I used to do the same thing with my hair in my late teens. I was a skateboarder, totally into the SoCal “Dogtown” skate scene. My musical tastes were all over the place. When I had long hair I was more of a Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Judas Priest kinda guy. Then I’d cut it short a day later and start listening to Devo, the Ramones, and the Surf Punks.
How has the album been received?
Ha-ha, funny. You’re not the songwriter, but I have to askthe very last line of “Silence Kit”: “Screwin’ myself with my hand.” Is that what I think it’s about?
I did not write that. I imagine it being like when you make the “OK” signal with thumb and forefinger and then push your penis through the O. Or maybe it refers to when you wrote something you wished you hadn’t, thereby screwing yourself.
I imagine you’re touring everywhere to promote the record. What places are you most looking forward to?
We love to travel, especially since the US dollar is so strong right now. I think we’re gonna get to go to New Zealand. We’re hoping to meet the Dead C.
Will you be going to Europe?
This’ll be our second time in Europe. I’m really not that into English food. We’re sick of John Major. Love John Peel. The French like us. Belgium is great. We have more fans there, per capita, than anywhere else. Germany, we have only been to Bremen for some reason. Love Vera Club in Holland, can’t wait to go back.
I know that you’re really into food. Any tips on great places you’ve been to on tour?
Hmm. I love eating while traveling, but my favorite place for food is Singapore. Bands never play there. Too bad. I like Middle Eastern and Indian food in London. Other than that the food is shite, as they say. It’s a difficult city in which to find a good meal. Might as well be in Portland, Oregon, or Seattleother shitty places for food. And rainy! Oh, I’d like to recommend, to anyone passing through Milwaukee, the Butter Burger at Solly’s Grill. It’s a meat-and-dairy extravaganza!!!
“Hit the Plane Down,” Scott’s song, reminds me of the Fall, although not as much as “Two States” from your previous record, Slanted and Enchanted. That’s the one band that everyone in Pavement agrees on, right? If you ever covered a Fall song which one would it be?
Yes, I guess it’s obvious that we like the Fall. Weirdly, most Brits that we know haven’t heard of them. Except for John Peel. I’d love to cover “No Bulbs.” I think Stephen would have fun singing that one.
That’s a great choice. Either that or “The Classical.” Stephen could really carry that line”I’ve never felt better in my life.” There’s one song on Crooked Rain, “5 4 = Unity,” that sounds like Dave Brubeck, a little tweaked, but still. Where did that come from?
I call it “Dave Brubeck Skills = Disaster.”
Malkmus has said that this song “Heaven Is a Truck” is about the singer from Royal Trux, meaning Jennifer Herrema, I guess. You’ve referred to her as Jennifer Trux. Have you toured with them? What are they like?
Actually, we’re about to go on tour with them. I haven’t seen them yet. They’re a straightedge band from DC, as far as I know. Not a lotta info on their record. They’re a couple, Jennifer and Neil, the former Pussy Galore guitar guy. I dig their single “Strawberry Soda.”
You’ve previously played with the Dust Devils and are now in Free Kitten with Julie Cafritz and Kim Gordon. How different is it from those bands to be in Pavement?
I guess the biggest difference is the way Pavement have been so well liked from our very beginning. As a result, we end up playing bigger venues and get to travel a lot more, which is fun, but also creates the larger burden of making more people happy. Playing smaller shows with Dust Devils and Free Kitten can be a bit more casual.
Finally, I have to ask, what’s all this pseudo controversy over “Range Life”? I mean, no one really cares about the Trashy Bumpkins or Stone Pimple Toilets.
Yeah, you’re right!!! What controversy? Let’s go back to talking about the Fall!
Photo courtesy of Matador Records
interviewed by jeff johnson
Vice: So what’s going on with you guys?
Bob Nastanovich: We’ve been touring a lot this year. You could call it over-touring. We have around 180 to 200 shows booked. We just played 53 shows in 52 days. We did a show in Pittsburgh at 2 AM, then we played a radio show at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC at noon, and then we played at 11 PM that night in Morgantown, West Virginia. It’s the first time any of us have experienced full-on laryngitis. I’ve gotten so many Best Western points this year, I got a free set of tires. The Jesus Lizard is into Motel 6but we stay at Best Western hotels pretty much exclusively.
Do you ever wanna kill each other?
Nah. We take breaks, and then every time we get back together to do something, it feels like a totally new band, even though it’s the same people.
Everyone has separate lives and separate interests. We talk to each other, but not too frequently. For instance, Steve West and I have been friends since we were 13, but his interests are completely different from mine. He doesn’t care at all about sports. He is into the Civil War and Star Trek. I’m not. I live in Louisville, across from Churchill Downs, and I’m into horse racing. Scott Kannberg just goes home to Berkeley and golfs. Stephen Malkmus goes back to his apartment in Brooklyn and listens to his record collection and makes up songs. And Mark Ibold lives in a tenement house in Manhattan on 11th Street in a sixth-floor walk-up, 50 percent occupied by junkies. He just wanders the Lower East Side. This zine Chickfactor is doing a cartoon called “Pavement Boy” that is a really mean parody of Mark. It’s unfair. It hurt his feelings. Mark’s not that guy. He’s not a scenester. The cartoon makes him seem like someone who is trying to poach his way onto every hip guest list in town. But he pays for shows when he could just get in on the guest list.
Still, Pavement feels more like a band now, right? I saw you guys on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno recentlyholding hands when you were done performing. Like superheroes or a unified force of some sort.
Very much so. Before this record, it’s always seemed like a project, a very messy project. And now it’s more of a band. One of our publicist Spencer Gates’s biggest conquests was getting us on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. And we humiliated ourselves with a horrendous version of “Cut Your Hair.” It was weird for us. We also did the Reading Festival and that was weird, too, because the biggest show we did before that was opening for My Bloody Valentine and Superchunk in New York, which was like 1,800 people. At Reading there was 30,000 people.
Leno was freaky in sort of the same way. We’ve never done anything like that. Steve was drumming in a large Plexiglas case. I didn’t know what to do, ’cause on that song, I just jump around and play the tambourine. It was kind of embarrassing not to be occupied. People from the show were intent on making us play the song to the letter. We had to practice it over and over again to make sure it was exactly three minutes and four seconds. Stephen really threw them a curveball when he started out by playing some other song for the first eight seconds. Then afterward, Jay came over to shake hands and accidentally brushes him and knocks his guitar to the floor. And Jay says, “I just bought a guitar.” I was walking around the lot beforehand and I walked past Vicki Lawrence and said, “Oh my God, it’s Vicki Lawrence!” and she looked at me like, “Who is this filthy man?”
That’s a strange encounter.
Yes. And after the Kentucky Derby this yearwe played in Louisville for the first time ever this year, the night before the raceI knocked Richard Dreyfuss on his ass. After the race, 140,000 people leave the track and about 500 locals from the neighborhood go in, because there are still two races left. People are swarming out of the place and a dozen drunks from my house go in, dressed like fools, just hammered. I’m walking along, talking to someone, one-eye-shut drunk, and I run into someone who’s about 5’6” and knock him over. I look down and it is Richard Dreyfuss. I help him up and he is brushing himself off. I’m like, “Whoa, Richard Dreyfuss, you were great in Jaws!” He’s basically like, “Get this asshole away from me.”
I think some critic called your new album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain a concept album about being 28.
That’s true, but it’s just by coincidence. It’s Stephen just being a smart, young songwriter, and that’s what he has to present. Making this record after Slanted and Enchanted, he was concerned about a sophomore slump, and it took a long time to make. I think he knew that Slanted and Enchanted was great, but I don’t think that he thought that people would go wild for itespecially critics and journalistsand it would win awards and be at the top of the Village Voice poll with Arrested Development.
Does the attention Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is getting now overwhelm you?
In a lot of ways, we’re sort of tossed in at the deep end. The phrase “next Nirvana” is chasing a lot of bands around. I guess we’re in that group. People in the industry think that we might make a splash in popular culture. And so there’s a dependency on music videos to push you to the next levelbut we don’t really spend money making those. In fact, “Cut Your Hair” is the first video we ever made. Dan Koretzky and Rian Murphy from Drag City made it for us. This guy Maurice who sells our t-shirts and works with Sonic Youth told me that it’s the stupidest video he has ever seen in his life. He said it was embarrassing for him to watch it. He’s a total smartass.
So I don’t know if it is really beneficial for us or not, but we’re just going to be ourselves. We’re about as rock as we’re ever going to be. Soundgarden has a guy who is just responsible for tuning their drums. I was taught how to tune a drum, but I sure as shit don’t think I have ever done it right. It would take me eight minutes to tune a floor tom and it should take about 40 seconds. Stephen has a lot of confidence in his ability and doesn’t suffer from itbut I worry about screwing up onstage, playing. I think people like that about us. I think fans come to the show rooting for us. Almost like watching your buddy at a piano recital. You want him to not screw it up.
Do you know Kurt Cobain?
We met him in ’92, at the Reading Festival. We’d heard that he curated the lineup on the day that Nirvana played. So I made a point to go up and tell him, “Thanks for getting us on this bill, this is a really big thing for us,” and shook his hand. He kind of gave me one of those “All right, man, all right, get away from me” responses. And I went back to the band, kind of disillusioned, saying, “Man, that Kurt Cobain guy doesn’t care whether we’re on this bill or not! He couldn’t give a shit!” I think the Melvins were playing at the time, and that might have been the reason he responded that way. He wanted to watch them and didn’t want to talk to some guy like me.
And we played two years ago, in ’92, with Sonic Youth at Castaic Lake in California, and Kurt opened, playing solo, acoustic. Well, the whole time he was playing, Courtney Love was making out with Gary Young backstage. It was crazy. We’re watching Kurt finish his set and in the distance we can see Courtney and Gary making out. Now Gary, his nickname is the Rotting Man, because he had that alcoholic’s breath, and we would always have to tell him to shut his mouth. I always had to carry mouthwash around because it was so disgusting! So you think, how the fuck can this woman be kissing this guy? And somebody heard her go up to Kurt and say, “Hey Kurt, the drummer from Pavement is so fucking cool.” And at the same time Gary comes over to me and Scott and says, “Who the fuck is this Courtney Long?” He could barely even walk.
This is kind of a weird segue, but have you tried out email?
No. We don’t have cell phones, either. My father has a long-distance calling plan via AT&T where you call a number and punch in the number you are trying to call. You have to find a pay phone, and when we’re on the road this is how we do most interviews. That’s the only way to get in touch with us.
What do you think of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain being named Vice’s Album of the Year?
I think it’s great. I think everybodyexcept myselfworked really hard on it. And any accolades heaped on the band are welcome.